Nine horses die on trail ride ahead of Calgary Stampede
A cowboy leads the herd of Calgary Stampede ranch bucking stock. (Photo courtesy www.calgarystampede.com)
CALGARY (CP) - Nine of the Calgary Stampede's prized rodeo horses died Sunday when they tumbled 10 metres off a bridge into the fast-flowing Bow River near the end of a 200-kilometre trail ride.
Officials are still searching for another horse missing from the herd of 200. They were being led by a chuckwagon over the bridge at Ogden Road in the city's southeast end when some of the horses got spooked. The animals began thrusting forward and bunching up on the bridge, sending some of them tumbling into the water.
"These are our star athletes. Suffice it to say it's a tragedy from our perspective," said Stampede spokesman Lindsey Galloway.
Eight of the dead horses were recovered from the river, while another had to be put down at Stampede Park because of its injuries, Galloway said.
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The trail ride was organized to celebrate the province's centennial year as part of the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition, which begins Friday.
On Tuesday, 200 wild horses left from the Stampede Ranch near Hanna, Alta., led by a chuckwagon and accompanied by approximately 50 trail riders. They were to travel across open prairie land, stopping in several communities along the way. They were scheduled to arrive in Calgary on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Spectators had come out to watch the horses make their way through the city. The accident happened 10 minutes before they would have arrived at Stampede Park, Galloway said.
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The bridge is a divided four-lane structure with low cement retaining walls in the middle and on the outside.
A witness suspects a nearby train may have scared the animals.
"The engine got really loud, it was shunting hard back and forth and it seemed like the horses just took off at that point," cyclist Jane Kuiser told CTV Newsnet.
Moments earlier, the animals were gathered in a park and seemed calm, she said.
Trail riders roped some horses and pulled them from the river. Some of the animals managed to swim across to the river bank, while those that safely crossed the bridge were standing along the road, which was being blocked off along the way by police.
Several riders continued on to Stampede Park with the remaining horses, while others stayed behind to continue searching.
"They are really upset," Galloway said. "They got really close to these animals."
Emergency crews helped recover the animals that had drowned. Three horses were near the bridge, while another five were recovered downstream with the help of two fire department boats, said Gerry Fox, deputy chief of the Calgary Fire Department.
"This is a very serious accident, especially at the start of Stampede week," Fox said. "These are very valuable animals."
The wild horses, called bucking stock, are kept at Stampede Ranch in Hanna, northeast of Calgary, and normally transported to the Stampede in trailers. They take part in a number of events through the 10-day stampede, including the daily rodeos.
"The idea of the trail ride is to try and recreate some of the romance of the Old West," Galloway said.
The same route was taken for trail rides in 1987 and 2000 with no incidents, Galloway said. The animals travelled over the same bridge in 2000.
He said it's not known why the horses got spooked, but witnesses are being interviewed.
Galloway said the chuckwagon driver pulled his groin. No spectators or trail riders were injured.
The Calgary Humane Society's special constables will also be investigating the incident, said spokesperson Cheryl Wallach.
The Humane Society and Alberta SPCA work with Stampede officials to make suggestions to improve animal safety, and had been told last week about the trail ride, Wallach said.
"The question is what happened, what went wrong," Wallach said. "We don't know all the details. We can't really make any judgments until we know exactly what happened."
Seven animals were killed at the rodeo in 2002 - six were horses injured during the chuckwagon races and one was a calf that suffered a broken leg during the calf-roping event.
Last year, a horse was put down after breaking its hind leg in a rodeo wild-horse event.
© The Canadian Press, 2005